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Published on June 01, 2018

Neurological Disorders: Balance Issues, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson's Disease

Neurological Disorders

In this Fox 8 House Call series, Cone Health experts explore various neurological disorders including: 

Balance

The aging process often involves several factors that can lead to a loss of balance or balance disorders, which can increase your risk of falling. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to prevent falls and problems with balance, including:

  • Reviewing co-existing health conditions and medications with your doctor to see if any affect your balance.
  • Getting your vision checked, as it plays an integral role in balance.
  • Making your home safer, such as removing throw rugs, install grab bars in the bathroom, and avoid wearing socks or slippers on smooth surfaces.
  • Developing a regular exercise routine that helps strengthen your muscles and improve balance.

One of the most important parts of preventing falls is beginning a regular exercise routine that incorporates walking, balance and strengthening exercises. A few simple exercises that you can practice at home are:

  • Heel Raises
  • Toe Raises
  • Squats
  • Standing on one foot
  • Standing with narrow support

Start by practicing these while holding on to the back of a chair or something else to help stabilize you. As you get stronger, you can stop holding on to the chair. Eventually, you may feel strong enough to go for a walk with a friend or join exercise classes at your local gym.

Christina Weaver, PT is a licensed physical therapist and balance and vestibular specialist at Cone Health Neurorehabilitation Center.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis, commonly referred to as MS, affects an estimated 2.3 million people worldwide. MS is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system begins to attack healthy tissue in the central nervous system, made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Eventually, the disease can cause the nerves themselves to deteriorate or become permanently damaged.

The cause of MS is still unknown, although it appears to be tied to a mixture of genetics and environmental factors. In most cases, MS presents itself between the ages of 20 and 40, and women are more likely to develop MS than men. Signs and symptoms can vary, but may include: numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, partial or complete loss of vision, prolonged double vision, tingling or pain in parts of your body, unsteady gait or tremor, slurred speech, fatigue and dizziness. To diagnosis MS, your physician will take an MRI of your brain and spinal cord to look for signs of the disease.

There is no cure for MS, but there are many medications available that manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Research is constantly being done to create new and better medications, and some new medications are now available for patients with MS. If you have any concerns, talk to your primary care physician about the symptoms you are experiencing, and discuss what medication may be right for you. The earlier you catch MS, the earlier treatment can begin to give you relief and slow the progression as much as possible.

Dr. Richard Sater is a neurologist and the medical director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Guilford Neurological Associates and a member of the Cone Health Medical Group.

Movement Disorders

Movement disorders refer to a group of neurologic disorders that affect the way a person moves, like Parkinson’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis. Over time, patients may have difficulty performing everyday tasks like getting dressed, speaking or swallowing. At Cone Health Outpatient Neurorehabilitation Center, therapists work with patients to develop an exercise routine that helps them overcome deficiencies caused by the disease.

Research has shown that increased intensity, duration and frequency of activity/exercise can significantly improve function and mobility for Parkinson’s disease patients. “Skill acquisition exercises” are another form of exercise that is particularly beneficial to Parkinson’s disease patients. They are specifically geared to help them improve their function in certain skills and/or activities that have become difficult for them because of the disease. Physical therapy focuses on posture, balance, walking and teaching patients proper, safe exercises. Occupational therapy focuses on helping patients with their upper body strength, fine motor skills, and activities of daily living such as bathing and dressing. Because many Parkinson’s disease patients begin to lose the volume of their voice, speech therapy focuses on helping patients talk louder and be better understood.

Before starting an exercise program, it’s important to talk with a physical therapist who specializes in patients with Parkinson’s so they can individualize the exercises to the needs of the patient. The earlier in the diagnosis process that patients begin an exercise plan, the better.

Amy Marriott is a physical therapist at Cone Health Neurorehabilitation Center.